Iraq Christian IDPs find refuge in Kurdish north
UNHCR sees significant increase in Christians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul to Kurdish region.
12/28/2010 Iraq (Middle East Online) – Hundreds of Iraqi Christians are fleeing to the northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region and particularly the town of Ankawa, which has become a safe haven for the country’s Christians, thanks to its special status and privileges granted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Ankawa, near Erbil, KRG’s capital, has a predominantly Christian population and administration, several churches and distinct Assyrian language.
Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said on 17 December that UNHCR offices in Iraq had seen a significant increase in Christians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul to the KRG Region and Nineveh plains in the north.
Fleming said the Christian communities in the two cities had started a “slow but steady exodus” since a deadly attack on 31 October, when 68 people were killed during the storming of Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad during Sunday Mass.
Some 1,000 families have arrived in the Kurdistan region and Ninewa since the beginning of November, according to UNHCR. “We have heard many accounts of people fleeing their homes after receiving direct threats. Some were able to take only a few belongings with them,” Fleming said.
“Bagdad has too many evils,” Jabir Hikmet Al Sammak, a Christian, said last week in Ankawa at the funeral of his 78-year-old father and 76-year-old mother. They had both been beheaded in their Baghdad home by extremists.
“It’s a city of guns,” said Al Sammak.
Al Sammak and many other Christian IDPs are now homeless and jobless, living either with their relatives or in rented houses they can hardly afford in Ankawa.
Earlier this month, Massoud Barzani, Kurdistan’s president, reiterated his promises to do whatever was possible for Christians coming to Kurdistan, saying leaving Iraq was no solution.
Nawzad Hadi, Erbil’s governor, told IRIN that Barzani had created a special committee to look into the needs of displaced Christians and provide them with aid.
“Kurdistan is their home,” said Hadi. “As an ethnic minority which suffered in the past, we Kurds can feel the suffering of Christians very well.”
However, a Christian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Kurdish authorities had told Kurdistan Christians that it was the duty of the Iraqi government, rather than the KRG, to aid the IDPs.
Meanwhile, Christians keep leaving Baghdad, according to the UNHCR’s Caux. “The Christian authorities say there are only 150,000 Christians left in Baghdad; one-third of them could be ready to leave,” said Caux, pointing to an increase in the migration of Christians abroad since Baghdad’s church attack.
Since then, 30 percent of new Iraqi arrivals in Jordan have been Christians, and in Lebanon and Syria, 167 and 55 Iraqi Christian families respectively have approached UNHCR to be registered as refugees, said Caux.